Jane Green is normally a much better author than this. I’m aware that Vacation is a novella from 2005 that’s been republished (I have no idea why Zebra lists this as 325 pages long – the book I read was eighty-eight pages minus a preview chapter of another of Green’s titles), but it’s a dull, predictable, weak fantasy of a book. If you’ve seen any of the C-level romantic comedy released in the last couple of years, you’ve already read this book. It’s a toxic novel about a toxic relationship that spreads its nonsensical ideas along as it skips along its pathway to the reader’s mental oblivion.
Sarah Evans is your typical harried mom. Her heart’s in the city but her body’s in the suburbs, and once upon a time she was a magazine editor with a New York career that she adored. Then, after a long and lousy romantic history, she found Eddie, a real estate developer. Now married with two kids, she has one big problem – Eddie, her once-upon-a-time dream man who refuses to pull his weight in household chores and child rearing.
Nine years into their relationship, both of them have settled and grown apart in their domesticity. Gourmet meals have given way to fast food; Sarah, once a go-getting singleton, has found mommy friends who know her only as such. Meanwhile, Eddie is floundering under a titanic amount of stress, and has responded to said stress by (gasp!) developing a beer belly (yep, reader, beware the fatphobia). Sarah is massively discontent, knocking back wine with her friends instead of… maybe talking to Eddie? Eddie – exhausted – sees Sarah as a complaining nag.
Then she’s given the opportunity for freedom. Eddie’s job moves him to Chicago indefinitely, leaving her home in the suburbs with the kids. She asks for a trial separation; he prefers to call it a ‘marriage vacation’. With Eddie out of town (and miserable to be alone), Sarah rediscovers her career. But Eddie misses her – and finally clues in that he needs to improve. Can their marriage be saved?
Vacation is, to simplify the plot, an easy housewife fantasy of a novel. Before the end of the book, Sarah will have improbably regained custody of the Loubotins, her business suits and her career; Eddie will have taken the hint and joined a gym while taking better care of their kids. Neither of them will have actually grown as people, showing them to be hollow stick-figure characters. A few people will love it. Other will be turned off by the weird, alien behavior of its protagonists.
Sarah is a shallow, mean-girl type who whines about her husband’s fat lazyness while skulking around in a ponytail and Birkenstocks. The only thing she wants out of life is to wear lipstick, get drunk with her friends and buy designer outfits for the fun of it.
The book has a weird issue with sexist thinking and behavior, from Sarah being a shrew/housewife to Eddie being a lazy couch potato. At one point Sarah wonders if girls are “inherently more evil” than boys (um. Your husband is a shitty father and a lazy husband and WOMEN are evil?!) But all she needs in order to get her mojo back is to implausibly Girl Boss her way into a marketing and PR position at a local spa (in spite of not having ever worked in that are area before; Sarah does nothing but fall upward throughout this book) and wear a little make-up.
Vacation doesn’t stop there, though. There’s a sense of gross materialism here – chain stores are equated with drabness, ritzy department stores with a new sense of self and attitude.
The children – Walker, a crybaby, and Maggie, an eight-year-old version of Satan – have an absolute non-reaction to the fact that their father has moved states away for work; they have a non-reaction to their mother rejoining the workforce. Mommy is pretty; daddy gets them things. They act out more fiercely when their parents are together. As someone whose father spent an entire two years in Taiwan for business, let me assure you – that sort of stuff impacts a kid.
The general quality of the writing is okay but oh, is the pace abrupt and choppy. Everything feels painfully rushed in a plot where stuff seems to happen just to advance it an inch, and ultimately, it’s like nothing more than a bad hangover.